What kind of war was it? – “How do I know, I saw the whole thing backwards!” June 4-7, 1942 at Midway

Battle of Midway, Commanding Officer, USS Enterprise, Serial 0133 of 8 June 1942

At Sea June 8, 1942
From: The Commanding Officer.
To: The Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet
Via: Commander Task Force Sixteen.
(Rear Admiral R.A. Spruance, U.S. Navy).

Subject: Battle of Midway Island, June 4 – 6, 1942 — Report of.

1.) The attack delivered upon enemy carriers by the torpedo squadrons of our forces is believed to be without parallel for determined and courageous action in the face of overwhelming odds. These crews were observed to commence their attack against heavy anti-aircraft fire from the enemy carriers and supporting vessels while opposed by enemy Zero fighters in large numbers. The enemy fighter opposition was so strong and effective that ten torpedo planes out of fourteen of Torpedo Squadron SIX did not return. It is recommended that the Navy Cross be awarded to each pilot and gunner of Torpedo Squadron SIX who participated in this bold and heroic attack. A separate letter containing details of all aircraft attacks and specific recommendations for awards will be submitted. …
7.) It is extremely difficult to determine the extent of the damage inflicted upon the enemy by Enterprise, as the air groups of all carriers, as well as land based aircraft at Midway, participated in continuous attacks on enemy units throughout the three days action. Based upon reports available to Enterprise, it is estimated the following damage was inflicted upon the enemy:

3 CV’s sunk.
1 CV on fire and badly damaged (probably sank night of June 5).
1 CA wrecked and abandoned.
3 CA heavily bombed.
3 DD sunk.

As a very young Lieutenant Junior Grade, I often kidded LCDR Pat Patterson that I didn’t know anyone so old they’d been in the Battle of Midway, so could he tell me what it was like. His reply – “What do I know, I was 19 years old and saw the whole thing backwards?” When he retired, I was the good humor man for his dinner. I got a copy of the Victory at Sea episode (3 parts) on Midway and ran it backwards. Continue reading

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June 4th 1942 – It begins

Preface to Blown Slick -the series: The evolution of fighter, attack, and strike warfare

All days come from one day, that much you must know.

You  cannot change what’s over, but only where you go…

The road that leads to nowhere, the road that leads to you…

Will you find the answer in all you say and do, will you find the answer in you?

Each heart is a pilgrim, each one wants to know, the reasons why the winds die and where their stories go

Pilgrim in your journey you may travel far, for pilgrim its a long way to find out who you are

Pilgrim by Enya


Naval Aviation marks its birthday as 8 May, 1911, but the single day that matters most is June 4th 1942 at the Battle of Midway. If one wears Wings of Gold, therein resides the metric to which you must always aspire. Continue reading

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Year of War- Reflection

(Please note that this is being posted on 25 March 2015, after reflection on previous offerings)

midway-1189b Remembered Sky began so as to tell the ’72-’73 story of USS Midway, Carrier Airwing FiveAlpha Strike Vietnam and to further focus primarily on the Attack mission side. It emerged out of revisiting  and reflecting on my career as a Naval Aviator in light of the 100th year anniversary of Naval Aviation in addition to a re-sparking of a long term frustration with, and almost impossibility of finding anything on the carrier and airwing that set the record in the Vietnam War for days on the line, and one of only four to receive the Presidential Unit Citation – equivalent of Navy Cross at the unit level.  That of course is good old Schoolboy – USS Midway – and Fast MoversAirwing Five. For example, the very good book focused on the Navy On Yankee Stationside of the air-ground war Alpha Strike Vietnam has next to
nothing, despite the fact that one of the story tellers, John Nicholson was a VA-56 CO in 68-69. Many books for whatever reason don’t even mention Midway as being there???

In addition, it has always seemed that air-air got more “words/books” than the attack “bidness,” and the only
When Hell Was in SessionMidway/CAG 5 story with any Not on my watchlegs at all is Mugs McKeon and his two MiG kills. (good story and well deserving telling), so I wanted to tell more of the attack pilot story.

While the initial writing was mostly about the Champs and A-7s, after meeting up with old
friend Dave Kelly from A-6 VA-115, I found he had same frustrations/misgivings on USS Midway and attack side stories. And so we jointly took on “attack” When Thunder Rolledstory telling.  Dave passed away in March 2014  but before he did, he got his book Not On My Watch published.American Patriot

Several sub series have been used including parts of Snako’s book, stories of Christmas 1972, and stories of the POWs and Operation Homecoming. Further stories will be posted as they present themselves, but for now Remembered Sky will use the ’72 experience as an underpinning for other aspects of air warfare Palace Cobraincluding relationships with our past and future.Launch the Intruders

History says that the Vietnam War goes down in the U.S. lost column and that airpower did not live up to its hype. Maybe so, but with proper use of airpower in response to the NVN Easter ’72 Offensive, General Giap, the big winner at Dien Bien Phu had his ass handed to him. Here are the words from an earlier post:

Honor BoundRolling Thunder gets lots of words on ineffectiveness. But what’s not found, unless you get into the more historic analysis Fighter Pilot
by people with credentials significant enough to understand, is how truly effective air power was in staving off a major major effort by the  NVN politburo to win the war outright while N
ixon was still President and America was still involved.  If you strip off the fuzz of who, why, why not, and just look at how the air war was
fought in this period, you find a different picture, a unique story of our eleven month deployment.                                                                     11 Days of Christmas

In Love and WarAfter the Easter Offensive, North Vietnamese generals commented it would be three to five years before they could mount another offensive.  After the Christmas bombings of Hanoi and Haiphong, North Vietnam had nothing left. The war delivered by Air Force and Navy pilots had served its purpose. 

On a personal level for many of the aircrew, Mission  Number One was complete: Our Prisoners Of War came home.
That “deep story” we earned, we own.

There are many, many books on the Vietnam War, but I’ll close this simply by noting that I’ve provided some of the resources I have used and highly recommend. Further Inputs are always desired.

Those of us who came home will never forget those who could not

Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association

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Operation Homecoming Part 9: The POW 40th Reunion

If as Ev Alvarez offers in the interview from Part 8, the POWs have held their last reunion, I want to preserve for further reference the panel discussion.

POW Panel at the Nixon Library

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Operation Homecoming Part 8: The First and the Last

Beginning on 23 May, many of the Viet Nam POW gathered for a reunion in Southern California centered around the Nixon Presidential Library to celebrate not only their 40th anniversary of regaining freedom but also of their night in the White House as a guest of President and Mrs. Nixon, May 24 1973.

As first POW Ev Alvarez notes in the interview below, this may be the last reunion.  The Viet Nam generation, particularly those from the earliest days of the war are well into their seventies. The interview includes Alvarez as the first POW and Al Agnew as the last POW released from Hanoi. Al was my first jet instructor at Meridian. We did not see each other after I left for VT-4 at Pensacola until the commissioning ceremony for the USS Stockdale at Port Hueneme California 18 April 2009. I owe him much. Welcome home.

This seemed an appropriate post as I finish up this series. The first and the last…


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Operation Homecoming Part 7: Lady and the Flag

When Carole Hickerson’s husband was missing in action during the Vietnam War, she started a movement of families frustrated by a lack of information on their missing loved ones.

RememberSky Note: Carole and Jim Hickerson are great friends. Jim was Vice Commander at Pacific Missile Test Center when I was in flight test and Bill Thomas and I did a 2-plane A-7 Corair II fly-over/departing man for his retirement ceremony. He returned the favor being the speaker at my retirement.  Jim was one of the first test pilots for the A-7 and unfortunately was the pilot of the first A-7 shot down over North Viet Nam, spending over 5 years in the Hanoi Hilton. This series on Operation Homecoming began with telling the story of Jim and myself talking to high schoolers at Rio Mesa and the “story of the ropes.”

Carole  was married to a Marine CH-46 pilot shot down in South Viet Nam on 3 June 1967. She became one of the early fighters in “the war of the wives” back in the states to spread the word on the treatment and lack of knowledge about the POWs. In this capacity she designed a letterhead for the POW-MIA organization. She’s quick to point out and asked me to emphasize that she had nothing to do with designing the flag itself. Below is a story I found by Steve Murray published in Midweek in July 2010 prior to an award for Jim and Carole. I am most appreciative to Steve for allowing me to publish on Remembered Sky. It is my way of telling their story and recognizing the “above and beyond” efforts of the National League of Families of American Prisoners of War and Missing in Action in Southeast Asia.

Lady and the Flag

By Steve Murray

There are some people history just won’t let us forget – many of them more infamous than famous. Then there are the countless others who go unnoticed or disappear into everyday life to be unfairly forgotten once the mission to which they have dedicated their lives has finished. Continue reading

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Operation Homecoming Part 6: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton

Naval Proceedings Magazine – November 2009 Vol. 135/11/1,281

By Peter Fretwell and Taylor Baldwin Kiland

The USS Stockdale (DDG-106) was commissioned in April 2009 in Santa Barbara, California. The man for whom the destroyer is named, Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale, left the U.S. Navy an inspiring legacy. During the Vietnam War, he was the senior ranking prisoner-of-war officer at the Hoa Lo Camp, Hanoi, better known as the Hanoi Hilton.

Vice Admiral James Stockdale’s principles can inspire any organization’s leaders. Continue reading

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Operation Homecoming Part 5: Always Leading and Always Will

by Orson Swindle (USMC, Ret) Prisoner of War in North Viet Nam

(Orson Swindle was shot down on November 11, 1966, released on March 4, 1973)

Reproduced with permission of USNI and the author

… for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while Senior Naval Officer in the Prisoner of War camps of North Vietnam on 4 September 1969. Recognized by his captors as the leader in the Prisoners’ of War resistance to interrogation and in their refusal to participate in propaganda exploitation, Rear Admiral Stockdale was singled out for interrogation and attendant torture after he was detected in a covert communications attempt…

 … Sensing the start of another purge, and aware that his earlier efforts at self-disfiguration to dissuade his captors from exploiting him for propaganda purposes had resulted in cruel and agonizing punishment, Rear Admiral Stockdale resolved to make himself a symbol of resistance regardless of personal sacrifice. He deliberately inflicted a near-mortal wound to his person in order to convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate. He was subsequently discovered and revived by the North Vietnamese who, convinced of his indomitable spirit, abated in their employment of excessive harassment and torture toward all of the Prisoners of War. By his heroic action, at great peril to himself, he earned the everlasting gratitude of his fellow prisoners and of his country… MEDAL OF HONOR citation

The country, the Navy, the Stockdale family, especially his beloved wife, Sybil, and those of us who were POWs in North Vietnam suffered a terrible loss with the passing on 5 July (2005) of Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale. Husband, father, patriot, mentor, author, and dear friend, he touched our lives profoundly. Distinguished graduate of the Naval Academy, Medal of Honor recipient, courageous warrior, brilliant leader, almost bigger than life, he never stopped inspiring us. It is difficult to accept that he is gone. We recognize how fortunate we are that he came our way. Continue reading

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Operation Homecoming Part 4: The Bracelets

(Note: This piece was originally published on the Project White Horse Forum for Veterans Day 2010.)

In high school, Joleta McNelis was never far away from a man she had never met. She carried Lt. John “Jack” Ensch in her heart — and on her wrist.  Aside from his name, the only thing McNelis knew about Ensch was the date his fighter jet was shot down over North Vietnam: 8-25-72. It was etched under his name on the metal bracelet she bought when she was 14.

Three months earlier, on the day Jack Ensch and Mugs McKeown became double “MIG killers” – the 23rd of May 1972 – I logged my 25th combat mission as one of the strike aircraft they, with flight school buddy wingman Rookie Rabb in their F-4 Phantoms, were protecting. Ensch’s squadron,VF-161, were readyroom next door neighbors to my A-7 squadron , VA-56 Champs.  Mugs would move on shortly to be commanding officer of TOPGUN and Jack would become a POW that August.

When Ensch arrived there (Hanoi Hilton) in August 1972, he brought news that he passed along to his fellow prisoners through tap codes between cells: People across America were wearing bracelets with their names on them. “They were dumbfounded,” Ensch said.

Continue reading

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Operation Homecoming Part 3: Jack Fellowes

By Commander Jack H. Fellowes, U. S. Navy, with Lisa Hillman

John Heaphy “Jack” Fellowes (November 22, 1932 – May 3, 2010)  was the the pilot of an A-6 Intruder from squadron VA-65 operating from the USS Constellation (CV-64), on his 55th bombing mission when he and his Bombardier–Navigator, Lieutenant, Junior Grade George Thomas Coker, were shot down over North Vietnam on August 27, 1966. He was known as “Happy Jack” because of his infectious sense of humor, which he maintained even while a POW. He was awarded the Silver Star for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity” while a POW, credited with “contributed significantly toward the eventual abandonment of harsh treatment by the North Vietnamese. He retired at the rank of Captain.

This article by Commander Fellowes was originally published in the December 1976 issue of Naval Proceedings. (Click to view the original article)

The emotional airport welcome for Commander Fellowes in March 1973 marked the end of six years of longing and waiting, both for him and for the members of his family. While he was in North Vietnamese prisons, he had changed, and so had they. Returning him to American soil was only the first step in a process that would attempt to strip away the effects of those six years and restore him to his roles as husband, father and naval officer.

On the morning of 7 March 1973, I was suddenly awakened by the quietness in my room. Everything seemed so still. I opened my eyes, stared at the ceiling, and blinked again. No mosquito net? Not here, you lucky dog. Light filtered in the window from the sun just rising over the Chesapeake Bay. The room was glowing warmly. My wife was asleep beside me.

It seemed so long ago that I had been flying my A-6 Intruder from the deck of the USS Constellation (CVA-64). Continue reading

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